This year’s Katherine Mansfield Society Annual Birthday Lecture was delivered by
professor Elleke Boehmer (University of Oxford)
Southern Light in/and Katherine Mansfield
Katherine Mansfield’s writing is remarkably attentive to light—its radiance, fall, intensity—especially what I will call the southern light of her far south homeland of Aotearoa New Zealand, as the conference theme reflects. The lecture will offer a creative-critical meditation on these forms of attention in Mansfield, pointing to a symbiosis in her work, whereby the light that suffused her childhood and youth informs her narrative perceptions, even while she at the same time found ways of noticing and foregrounding that light in her writing. I may (tentatively) go so far as to say that Mansfield’s sensitivity to radiance and luminescence provides pathways to better understanding the nature and behaviour of southern light, and also recommended to other, later antipodean writers ways of representing it.
Elleke Boehmer is Professor of World Literature in English and Co-director of the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing at the University of Oxford. She is a Fellow of the English Academy, of the Royal Society of Literature, and of the Royal Historical Society, and an Honorary Fellow of St John’s College, Oxford. She is a member of the Dutch Society of Letters. She is the author of Postcolonial Poetics (2018); Indian Arrivals 1870-1915: Networks of British Empire (2015; winner of the biennial ESSE prize 2016); Nelson Mandela: A Very Short Introduction (2008, 2023); Empire, the National and the Postcolonial, 1890–1920 (2002); Stories of Women (2005); and Colonial and Postcolonial Literature: Migrant Metaphors (1995, 2005). Southern Imagining is forthcoming. She is also a novelist and short story writer. Her fiction includes To the Volcano, and other stories (2019; commended Elizabeth Jolley Prize) and The Shouting in the Dark (winner of the Olive Schreiner Prize 2018). Elleke is a founder member of the KM Society and has been reading and thinking about Mansfield for many decades.